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Archive for December, 2012

Jemmy Hope.

Jemmy Hope.

Jemmy Hope is a name unfamiliar to many Irish people today, and yet he remains one of the most radical voices in Irish history. Described by veteran republican socialist George Gilmore in 1964 as being to 1798 what James Connolly was to 1916, Hope was a leading voice in the United Irishmen movement. He survived that first republican insurrection, and was active in Emmet’s Rebellion in 1803. Hope fought at the Battle of Antrim in June 1798 alongside Henry Joy McCracken, and in 1803 was influential in organising support for Emmet’s failed rebellion, primarily among the working class in Dublin.

Jemmy Hope was born in Templepatrick, Co.Antrim. Self-educated, he was of Presbyterian stock. As Sean Cronin wrote in his brief biography of Hope:

The Dissenters laboured under religious and political disabilities, though nothing on the scale of the penal laws against the Catholics. They had strong anti-authoritarian views. When their grandfathers slammed the gates of Derry on the troops of King James II they acted in the name of liberty and in defiance of the theory that kings ruled by “Divine Right.”

Hope, like many other northern Pyresbyterians, was drawn to the politics of republicanism, and as Cronin has noted a young Hope “saw the rise of the United Irishmen as a revolt against the tyranny of privilege and foreign rule.” The United Irishmen had been established in the winter of 1791, when a group of Protestant Irish nationalists which included Theobald Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson and Thomas Russell met in Belfast. Initially quite in line with the thinking of Henry Grattan and other moderates, this society in time drifted towards radical republicanism.

Hope’s political beliefs were much to the left of even many of the United Irishmen. He believed that:

By force the poor were subdued and dispossessed of their interest in the soul; by fiction the titles of the spoilers were established; and by fraud on the productive industry of future generations, the usurpation continued.

The emblem of the United Irishmen. Around the harps are the words 'Equality- It is new strung and shall be heard'.

The emblem of the United Irishmen. Around the harps are the words ‘Equality- It is new strung and shall be heard’.

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Hidden in the middle of a 1970s housing development in Rathfarnham lies the ruins of a Georgian home, boasting a fascinating history.

Known as The Priory, this house which stood for at least 150 years, played an integral role in “the greatest love story in Irish history”; that of Sarah Curran and Robert Emmet.

Its journey from a beautifully well-kept homestead to a vandalised ruin sums up the unfortunate recurring story that sees the Irish State and other bodies not doing its job in preserving objects of great historical interest.

The house, which was linked to secret societies, wild parties, underground passages, fatal accidents, ghosts, secret rooms and a long-running quest for a forgotten grave, has all the hallmarks of a fantastic melodramatic thriller.

The mystique entrance into The Priory house.

The mystical entrance into The Priory house. Taken from Footprints of Emmet by J.J. Reynolds (1903).

In 1790, the famed barrister and politician John Philpot Curran took possession of a stately house off the Grange Road in the south Dublin village of Rathfarnham. He renamed it The Priory after his former residence in his hometown of Newmarket, Cork. A constitutional nationalist, Curran defended various members of the United Irishmen who came to trial after the failed 1798 rebellion.

[It has been erroneously reported that Curran took over a residence, originally called Holly Park, which he renamed The Priory. Holly Park was, in fact, the name of the home of Jeffrey Foot which stood to the south of Curran's home. Foot was an Alderman of Dublin Corporation who followed his father's footsteps into the tobacco and snuff industry. Holly Park later became St Columba’s College and is still in use.] [1]

One of Curran’s earliest biographer’s, William O’Regan, described the view from the second floor of The Priory:

of interminable expanse, and commanding one of the richest and best dressed landscapes in Ireland, including the Bay of Dublin; on the eastern side May-puss Craggs and obelisks, and a long range of hills.

O’Regan described the house itself as “plain, but substantial, and the grounds peculiarly well laid out and neatly kept”. One source, The Irish Times on 14 August 1942, suggests that the higher proportion of the house was the part that Curran rebuilt with the rest of the dating back to the Queen Anne period (1702–1714).

A window under a large box tree beside the house was said to have been the venue for Sarah Curran’s final goodbye to Emmet in 1803. More on their relationship later.

The Priory as it would have looked from the 1790s to the 1920s. Pictured in 1903. Taken from Footprints of Emmet by J.J. Reynolds (1903).

The Priory as it would have looked from the 1790s to the 1920s. Pictured in 1903. From Footprints of Emmet by J.J. Reynolds (1903).

Curran was a founding member of an elite patriotic drinking club called The Monks of the Screw  (a.k.a. the Order of St. Patrick) who were active in the late 1700s. The membership, numbering 56, included politicians (Henry Grattan) judges (Jonah Barrington) priests (Fr. Arthur O’Leary) and Lords (Townshend). Many were noted for their strong support of constitutional reform and self-government for Ireland. The club used to meet every Sunday, in a large house in Kevin’s Street owned by Lord Tracton.

Given the title of the ‘Prior’ of the Monks, Curran used to chair their meetings at which all members wore a cassock. It was he who wrote their celebrated song whose first verse goes:

When Saint Patrick this order established,
He called us the Monks of the Screw
Good rules he revealed to our Abbot
To guide us in what we should do;
But first he replenished our fountain
With liquor the best in the sky;
And he said on the word of a Saint
That the fountain should never run dry.

Curran also used to host the Monks at his home in Rathfarnham in a special room situated to the right of the hall-door. The two outside legs of the table, at which  they would sit, were carved as satrys’ legs. Between them was the head of Bacchus (God of the grape harvest and winemaking) and the three were wound together by a beautifully- carved grapevine. It was also written that an elegant “mahogany cellarette in an arched recess in another part of the room was cap able of holding many dozens of wines” [2]

The parties, as can be imagined, were all-night affairs. Wilmot Harrison in his book Memorable Dublin Houses (1890) wrote that:

Ostentation was a stranger to his home, so was formality of any kind. His table was simple, his wines choice, his welcome warm, and his conversation a luxury indeed … There were beds prepared for the guests, a precaution by no means inconsiderate. When breakfast came it was sometimes problematical how the party were to return. If all were propitious, the carriage was in waiting; if a cloud was seen, however, the question came “Gentlemen, how do you propose getting to court?”

The house was allegedly haunted by a mischievous  ghost who spent most of his time in a secret room of the house, which was eventually closed up by Mrs. Curran.

Tragedy struck on 6 October 1792 when Curran’s youngest daughter Gertrude accidentally fell from a window of the house and was killed. Devastated at the loss of his favourite child, Curran decided to bury his daughter, not in a graveyard, but in the garden adjacent to The Priory so that he could gaze upon her final resting place from his study in the house.

Little Gertrude was buried in a vault and a small, square brass plaque was put on the stone slab reading:

Here lies the body of Gertrude Curran

fourth daughter of John Philpot Curran

who departed this life October 6, 1792

Age twelve years.

Grave of Getrude Curran, killed aged only 12 in 1792. Taken from Footprints of Emmet by J.J. Reynolds (1903).

Grave of Getrude Curran, killed aged only 12 in 1792. From Footprints of Emmet by J.J. Reynolds (1903).

Sarah Curran’s last request on her death bed was to be buried “under the favourite tree at The Priory, beneath which her beloved sister was interred.” [3]  but Curran did not agree to this. Lord Cloncurry told Richard Robert Madden, historian of the United Irishmen, that Curran did not accede to the request because he had been previously criticised for burying Gertrude in unconsecrated ground. [4] The fact that Curran also disowned and essentially banished his daughter Sarah obviously had something to do with it as well.

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On Sunday, a gang of us travelled up to Montpelier Hill to see the infamous Hellfire Club lodge, which seemed about as far removed from a normal Christmas day out as anything we could think of. If the lodge was ever actually even used by the Hellfire Club is the subject of considerable debate, but it does have quite a spooky feel to it, and the legends and folklore that surround the ruin made it too tempting to resist a visit.

hellfire
In 1798, with the United Irishmen rebellion unraveling, Wicklow rebel Joseph Holt stopped off at Montpelier Hill. Even then, rumours of hauntings abounded the old lodge, and he would write in his memoirs:

I lay down in the arched room of that remarkable building, on Montpelier Hill. I felt so confident of the protection of the Almighty, that the name of enchantment, and the idle stories which were told of the place had but a slight hold of my mind; I thought there could be nothing worse there than myself, and having returned thanks, and praying for a continuance of God’s blessing and protection, I composed myself, and soon fell into as profound a sleep as if I had been, as formerly, reposing in my own comfortable bed, in quiet times, with my happy family about me.

Holt went on to write about the magnificent views of Dublin afforded by the hill. Certainly, if you haven’t been up it is more than worth the effort. Hellfire Club or not, I’m not quite as brave as Joseph Holt. I won’t be sleeping in the lodge.

Gazing down over it all (Photo: Branno)

Gazing down over it all (Photo: Branno)

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In June 1979, the site of the hugely controversial Civic Offices at Wood Quay was occupied under cover of darkness by protesters. Under the Black Raven flag of the Vikings, newspapers reported that “poets and politicians, writers and artists, trade unionists and people from the Liberties” were among those who made the bold step, led by Father F.X Martin. Martin was a prolific historian, writing on subjects as diverse as the Irish Volunteers and Early Modern Ireland, and in his lifetime he could boast of roles as diverse as Chairman of the Friends of the Medieval Dublin, Professor of Medieval History at University College Dublin and friar. The occupation of the site grabbed national and international headlines.

F.X Martin peeps through the fence at Wood Quay. (The Irish Times, 2 June 1979)

F.X Martin peeps through the fence at Wood Quay. (The Irish Times, 2 June 1979)

Martin had legally opposed the construction of the offices as far back as 1977, and had argued that the site should have been preserved as a tourist attraction due to its heritage. In 1978 he went before the High Court in an attempt to prevent the construction project continuing. As Frank McDonald noted in The Irish Times, Martin used his court appearance to argue that the real importance of Wood Quay was in “the fact it revealed the layout of Medieval Dublin, showing how the ordinary people lived at the time and how the city had evolved around them.”

Judge Liam Hamilton accepted the case of Martin and said he was satisfied the site was of national importance and should be preserved. Incredibly however, two months later Pearse Wyse (then Minister of State of the Office and Public Works) announced that excavations at Wood Quay would be coming to an end and the Corporation would be allowed continue with its construction work. This led to a major campaign of resistance, with a petition signed by over 200,000 people and a protest march of 20,000 through the city. ‘Operation Sitric’ in June 1979 was one of the most exciting moments of that campaign of opposition. The protest took its name from Sigtrygg Silkbeard, a one-time Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin.

At first, fifteen protestors occupied the site. These included Michael O’Leary T.D, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. The writers James Plunkett and Mary Lavin, Denis Larkin and Donal Nevin from the trade union movement, the sculptor Oisin Kelly and architect Michael Scott, who was responsible for the modern Abbey Theatre.

The occupation of the site began at 7.15pm, with the occupiers rushing the site as workmen finished for the day. The writer James Plunkett told the media that by “destroying Wood Quay we were making a disgrace of ourselves and our city in front of the world.”

The media reported that on one occasion workers rained gallons of water on top of the protestors, destroying their sleeping bags. On another occasion, Gardaí were called to the site following an alleged assault on a female occupier.On June 7th a compromise was reached whereby workers would be freely allowed enter the site by the protesting group, on the condition work not continue.

Here, the 'Black Raven' flag of the protesting group is clear. (Irish Press)

Here, the ‘Black Raven’ flag of the protesting group is clear. (Irish Press)

With a council election looming, the protesters aimed to await the election of a new City Council, in the hope it could save the Wood Quay site. The Irish Press wrote on June 18th that the occupation was going strong, and over two weeks in the paper noted:

Morale among the latest Wood Quay invaders has been high, with plenty of ‘hooting for preservation’ from the passing motorists, well wishers handing in chickens and sandwiches, The Stag’s Head pub supplying the stew and Peter O’Toole “just dropping in.”

The occupation had an improvised kitchen on site, and availed of the toilet facilities which ironically were originally placed there for the use of construction workers. The media noted that “the age of the professional sit-in has arrived”. The John Paul construction company claimed to be losing about £30,000 a week owing to the occupation.

Among those occupying the site were Mick and Teresa Wall, a young married couple from the Oliver Bond flats, both unemployed. Teresa had been protesting outside of the construction site before the occupation with a pot and pan, and Mick described their involvement in the sit-in as one of the most positive experiences of his life. Sitting among academics and professional writers, it showed the real mix of Dubliners involved.

The controversial office blocks today

The controversial office blocks today


On June 21st, most of the occupiers left the site following a Supreme Court order, and powerful machinery was once more used on the priceless site. The John Paul construction company later said it would seek £8 million in compensation for losses brought about as a result of the occupation.

Among those who spoke out in defense of the Wood Quay office blocks was Ben Briscoe of Fianna Fáil. Briscoe accused the media of giving the Wood Quay demonstrators a “bandwagon to perform on” and insisted that “most archaeologists in Ireland support the Corporation in what they want to do.” Ironically, in Dublin’s ‘millennium’ year of 1988, four stalwarts of the campaign to save Wood Quay were presented with honorary awards for their efforts to preserve Dublin’s heritage!

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The dragon of Moore Street

Did you know that there is a carved stone dragon perched on the top of a three-storey building on Dublin’s historic Moore Street?

Mischievous dragon overlookign Moore Street. Credit - Jonathanmbradshaw

Mischievous dragon overlooking Moore Street. Credit – Jonathanmbradshaw

As you can see a capstone (chimera or gargoyle) in the shape of a dragon is positioned at the top of no. 55 Moore Street. Local legend suggests that its wings were chipped away by sharp shooters of the 6th Sherwood Foresters at the Parnell-Moore St barricade during the Easter Rising.

Regarding the building itself, as far as I can work out, there was a butcher on this premises from at least the 1920s until the early 1990s.

The death of a James Canavan, listed as a butcher living at the address, in April 1924 was reported in most of the national newspapers.

In November 1905, the Irish Independent noted that a James Byrne of 55 Moore Street along with two other friends were fined £1 each after being found in William Quirke’s pub in Blackrock. Although one of them said they had gone out for “pleasure and fresh air”, they were not indeed bona- fide travellers. At the time, public house could supply liquor to a Bona-Fide Traveler during prohibited hours when the premises was otherwise required to be closed. As you can imagine, many people would travel out to the suburban pubs and try to claim this status for a late night tipple.

In July 1934, the Irish Press reported that Patrick Henry (19) had stolen £35 worth of property from his uncle Peter McKeogh of 55 Moore Street. Tut tut.

A view of Moore Street, in pre Ilac Centre days, from the 1950s with no. 55 visible in top left corner. Credit -

A view of Moore Street, in pre Ilac Centre days, from the 1950s with no. 55 ‘Martin & Son’ butcher clearly visible. Credit – Eamon Martin

The Martin family ran a butchers at this premises from 1937 to 1991. During the 1960s, there were up to 21 (!) different butchers on Moore Street but Martin’s was always considered one of the best.

Martin & Son butcher, 55 Moore Street. Picture taken at Christmas time, 1950. Credit - Eamon Martin

Martin & Son butcher, 55 Moore Street. Picture taken at Christmas time, 1950. Credit – Eamon Martin

A view of Moore Street from 1960 with dragon clearly visible. From this angle, it doesn’t look unlike a daredevil cat trying to get a better view of the street below.

Moore Street, 1960. Credit - Eamon Martin

Moore Street, 1960. Credit – Eamon Martin

A recent view of the dragon. Notice the overgrown weeds and grass growing out of the building.

Beautiful picture. Credit - conorcullen1

Beautiful picture. Credit – conorcullen1

Artist Catherine Ryan has incorporated the dragon, along with some other more famous Dublin architectural imagery, into this wonderful painting:

Dublin Gargoyles. Credit - Catherine Ryan

Dublin Gargoyles. Credit – Catherine Ryan

All in all, it’s one of my favourite little pieces of unusual Dublin architecture – of which there are many.

(Thanks especially to Eamon Martin for the photos. He worked in the butchers at no. 55 from 1955 – 1991.)

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For a few weeks now I’ve been living in Dublin 7, about a ten minute stroll from the centre of town. I’ve made the most of it, and try to carry a camera. I’m by no means a photographer, far from it, but I enjoy taking the occasional photo in Dublin.

Last Monday, with crazy season well under way and people shopping until they drop, we went for a wander around town. We planned to have lunch in the Paris Bakery on Moore Street. On the way, we passed this gem in the window of a shop on the corner of Moore Street and Henry Street. I think I’ll pass on it.

A bargain. On the corner of Moore Street and Henry Street.

A bargain. On the corner of Moore Street and Henry Street.

The Paris Bakery continues to grow, and brings a real bit of life to Moore Street. It’s never empty, and the food is highly spoken of by most Dubs. Walking in the door, you can’t help but notice this bit of Moore Street history. On the menu, you can try the ‘James Connolly’. Unlike today’s Labour movement, there’s no smoked salmon involved.

The reds and the greens.

The reds and the greens.

We went up to the old Irish House of Lords on College Green for a look inside, and there’ll be more on that in time on the site. Outside, I noticed something I’d not seen before. I stop and talk inside and outside this building weekly with my dayjob as a tour guide of Dublin, but the camera in the lights has always escaped me. Big Brother indeed.

Spot the camera

Spot the camera

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Image from front page of Trinity News (April 21st 1966)

Image from front page of Trinity News (April 21st 1966)

In April 1966, the Irish state marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in spectacular fashion. The state laid claim to the legacy of the Easter Rising, while Republicans fought for a voice within the year of commemoration. One unusual group who protested during the commemorations were Misneach, an Irish language activist group, who voiced their anger at the “non-achievement of the aims of the signatories of the Proclamation” by going on hunger strike for a week, frequently picketing the front of the General Post Office. Their strike began, as the Easter Rising itself had, on Easter Monday. They attracted considerable media attention worldwide, with the New York Times and others covering the protest.

In March 1966, the group Misneach used a press conference in the Clarence Hotel to outline their planned hunger strike, and noted that during Easter week they would picket the G.P.O, the newly constructed Garden of Remembrance, Liberty Hall and other sites associated with the rebellion. Their statement, which was issued in the Irish language, was signed by Micheál Mac Aonghusa (the secretary of Misneach), Eoin O Murchú, Deasún Breathnach and others. In total twelve men and one woman were committed to the April hunger strike in Dublin, with others pledging similar action in Belfast.

Micheál Mac Aonghusa told The Irish Times that Misneach did not believe “those who died in that Easter Week died to have their deaths celebrated, but rather their aims be achieved.” He asked just what the Ireland of 1966 had to celebrate. “The death of the Gaeltacht, economic independence on Britain, partition or emigration?” The protest by Misneach members enjoyed support (in the form of resolutions) from a wide variety of groups, including branches of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann and the Celtic Youth Congress.

The official state commemoration marches past the General Post Office, 1966.

The official state commemoration marches past the General Post Office, 1966.

For the duration of the hunger strike, the members of Misneach slept in a small tenement room just off Parnell Street, and their protest attracted plenty of media coverage at home and abroad. Several men in Belfast staged a similar protest in Hawthorn Street, and pledged to “think, speak, write and read only Gaelic during the strike period.”

Those on hunger strike were described in the national media as “mostly people in their twenties, mild spoken. They use no English.” Many were students, primarily from University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. Pronsais Nic Uait was the only female hunger striker, and hailed originally from Boyle in Roscommon. She was a student of Trinity College Dublin, studying English. The car of one hunger striker, Deasún Breathnach, was stolen from the north inner-city during the hunger strike, but found undamaged by Gardaí soon after and returned.

The Irish Times details the hunger strikers (April 12 1966)

The Irish Times details the hunger strikers (April 12 1966)

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